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June 29 2009 10:56 AM

 While the United States Postal Service continues to be tentative in its rollout of the versatile but complex Intelligent Mail barcode, there can be no doubt that barcodes themselves â¬" whether IM BC, POSTNET or PLANET â¬" are the yardsticks by which mailpiece quality is measured. These codes contain the essential information that can mean the difference between fast, efficient, economical delivery, and delays at best and non-automation rates at worst. The USPS is even considering increasing the minimum requirements for barcode readability â¬" from 80 to 90 percent â¬" further emphasizing the absolute importance of barcode quality.

With so much riding on the quality and readability of printed barcodes, and the USPS slowly reducing the number of its Mailpiece Design Analysts at regional centers nationwide, there has never been a better time for pro-active mailers to take every precaution possible in confirming the MERLIN compliance of mailpieces before a job is completed. These days, any truly optimized mailing workflow would have to include the ability to verify USPS acceptance of those all-important codes before the mailing is submitted to a postal facility. In-line barcode readers are useful, but cost-prohibitive to most mailing operations. Thatâ¬s where the Mail Verifier Plus (MVP) comes in: Now every mailer has the means to spot-check the effectiveness of printed barcodes before a mailing is completed â¬" ensuring plenty of time to make changes, if necessary.

The origin of the MVP begins with the development of MERLIN itself. That USPS inspection system was created by BÖWE BELL + HOWELL as a way of measuring mailpiece quality according to DMM standards. Once the Postal Service began using MERLIN, BÖWE BELL + HOWELL then devised a desktop device to help regional Mailpiece Design Analysts diagnose mailpiece and barcode issues in advance of MERLINâ¬s role in the process. The next logical step was to give mailers access to that same desktop technology. The MVP is that solution, a portable tool virtually identical to the units found in MDA offices nationwide.

Slightly larger than a shoebox and powered by standard household current, the Mail Verifier Plus houses a high-resolution digital camera that captures the image of a supplied mailpiece, and GUI software (easily installed on any PC) that finds and reads postal barcodes within the image field. The software is the â¬Å"most valuable playerâ¬â of the MVP. It analyzes print-to-mailpiece contrast ratios and physical barcode characteristics â¬" degree of bar skew, distance between the bars themselves, etc. â¬" all of which must fall within specific ranges in order to pass a MERLIN inspection. Data are preserved in individual reports that may be saved to the host PC for future reference, or printed.

As the USPS increasingly turns to barcode-driven automation as a savings driver, easier and earlier access to postal evaluation standards will be more and more vital, says Jim Mann, BCCâ¬s Vice President of Customer Support. â¬Å"Postal costs keep rising, and mailers can no longer afford to assume theyâ¬ve done all they can to ensure maximum economy,â¬â he says.
At a recent trade show where the MVP was featured, sample mailpieces from various attending vendors were collected to test the quality of random barcodes. All but one of the dozen-odd samples were determined unlikely to pass MERLIN. Of these, at least one simply required an in-line adjustment, made possible by the diagnostic report from the MVP.

Mann points out that the next-generation Intelligent Mail barcode raises the barcode-analysis stakes: unlike POSTNET codes that could be visually interpreted by experienced mailers, the newest barcode solution is far more complex. â¬Å"Without the right tools, Itâ¬s easy to miss errors in an Intelligent Mail barcode,â¬â he says. â¬Å"The MVP canâ¬t categorically guarantee that a mailing will pass MERLINâ¬"too many other variables are involvedâ¬"but by using the exact same barcode and reflectance specifications as the DMM itself, it can give an advance idea of whether correctable issues are present.

â¬Å"These days, that can make a big difference.â¬â

See a video of the Mail Verifier Plus in action at  For more information about the MVP, contact BCC Software at (800) 453-3130 or